Spruce Mine Targeted By EPA Veto Recommendation

Regional administrator asks for revocation of mine's permit

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Today signals a historic and hugely positive step taken by the EPA to protect the people of Appalachia, who have suffered the harmful and grave consequences of mountaintop removal mining for too long.

The news, just released, is that EPA Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin is recommending a veto of the permit for Spruce No. 1 Mine. Read here for background on the EPA’s historic decisionmaking around the Spruce No. 1 Mine. Garvin’s recommendation is to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who ultimately must make the decision.

What this means is that after years of watching their streams buried and waters contaminated by mountaintop removal mining, there is hope for the health and well-being of the people of Appalachia.

Here is part of Garvin’s letter :

Based on the foregoing analysis and upon consideration of the public comments received in response to Region Ill’s proposed detennination, Region III believes that discharges of dredged and/or fill material to Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch for the purpose of constructing the Spruce No.1 Surface Mine as currently authorized by DA Pennit would likely have unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife.

For this reason, it is the recommendation of the Regional Administrator that the specification embodied in DA Pennit No. 199800436-3 (Section 10: Coal River) of Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch as disposal sites for discharges of dredged and/or fill material for construction of the Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine be withdrawn.

Garvin said the 50,000 public comments received as a part of this process helped to inform his decision, in addition to the science and analysis conducted by his office.

To be clear, this recommendation alone does not determine the outcome of the permit for the Spruce mine. It is a step along the way — and one that must be reinforced by a full veto of the permit by Jackson. The EPA has 60-120 days to make a final decision.

In this time, we must make it clear to the EPA and to Jackson that a full veto of the largest proposed mine in Appalachia is absolutely necessary. This veto won’t solve the problems of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and it won’t guarantee that the people of the region will have full protection of the Clean Water Act, but it is a step in the right direction.

My colleague Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative, had strong words a bit ago on this recommendation that I believe cut to the heart of what’s at stake here: 

We applaud the EPA and Regional Administrator Garvin for taking this important step toward a final veto.  Congress gave EPA oversight of these permits for a reason: it is the agency’s job to make sure waters are protected to the full extent of the law.  This step honors that legal – and we believe moral – responsibility.  We hope Administrator Jackson will follow this recommendation and veto the unacceptable permit for the Spruce Mine.

For too long, mountaintop removal mining has made Appalachia into a national sacrifice zone for the polluting dirty energy industry. This practice –  which obliterates mountains, buries streams, and harms water supplies – goes against both science and the law. This national sacrifice of Appalachia must end. The Spruce No. 1 Mine permit must be fully vetoed, and the EPA must follow that with a strong policy that honors the Clean Water Act and finally ends mountaintop removal mining.


Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.